The Politics of Hiring

The Human Resources Commissioner for Chicago recently resigned. He had been originally hired to implement a hiring system free of politics. Apparently, the Commissioner had made some employment decisions that were influenced by politics, and then lied to the Chicago Inspector General about them. This was a great loss, given how high a priority the city’s administration placed on this project — being the result of a consent decree signed in 1972. But after he succeeded in freeing hiring from politics in the hometown of Rod Blagojevich, he was scheduled to find a cure for cancer and solve the global economic crisis. Tragic. Very tragic.

Interestingly, he had been scheduled to talk at a major HR conference about how he was implementing a hiring process free of politics. I believe it was labeled “Tilting at Windmills.” The commissioner was a political appointee, and not necessarily the best qualified person for the job. Of course he may very well have been the best candidate — the fact that the gentleman is the treasurer for a political action committee that contributed to the mayor and a key alderman couldn’t possibly have influenced his selection. Then again, he was perhaps not the best choice to be a spokesperson on acquiring talent. One might as well ask Joe Biden to speak at a Toastmasters convention.

So what exactly was the Commissioner supposed to do to make the hiring process in the Windy City free of politics? An independent review had identified some deficiencies in the city’s process that included:

  • Improper interference by several departments in the screening and referral of applicants
  • Failure to identify job requirements
  • Failure to post job openings
  • Hiring from a limited pool of pre-selected applicants
  • Placing individuals previously deemed unqualified on eligibility lists

The solutions proposed included documenting all hiring related activities, communications, justifications for hires, using assessments, training managers and the HR staff on interview and selection procedures, etc.

Rolling a Rock Uphill

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was punished by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. That’s pretty much what trying to free hiring from politics is like. Even if the city had a process that addressed all those deficiencies, it would not necessarily be free of politics, as illustrated by the recent Ricci v. DeStefano decision. The case was more about political interference in hiring than discrimination. New Haven’s hiring policies and process produced a result that did not sit well with the powers that be. So the city decided to toss out the results and to find a test of “equal value” that would produce a different, and more palatable result. Letting politics influence hiring is bad, except when it’s good. To some extent, the problem with diversity in recruiting is politics in hiring, and that’s not just limited to governments.

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Despite all the technology, assessments, and procedures an employer has in place, no process is perfect. Subjectivity of one sort or another invariably influences the outcome. Any recruiter who has been on the job more than a week has experienced some attempt to influence the process. To some extent this is a matter of degrees; how far does the interference have to go before it becomes unacceptable? Obviously, a person getting hired simply because of patronage is going too far, but it’s less clear when it’s not that blatant, such as when a candidate tries to use connections to improve their chances of getting hired.

There’s something hypocritical about a government claiming to try and eliminate politics in hiring, since usually all of the top jobs, and plenty of the lower ones, are filled by people chosen for their political affiliations more so than any qualifications they may have. It’s too much to expect that politics will not influence hiring in the government, but at least for leadership positions it’s important to keep up appearances and hire people who are qualified and credible. That sets the tone for positions lower down the line. For example, no one would hire a tax cheat to run the U.S. Treasury, since it includes the IRS. Oh, wait. Never mind.

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.


7 Comments on “The Politics of Hiring

  1. Raghav, good piece… The Politics of Hiring as was your July 8th missive The Road Ahead….

    Yes America is circling the drain. We pontificate about setting high standards in politics and business, while operating more and more in the shadows of third world political and business practices. Jobs and employment, while often treated in a vacuum, need to be evaluated in a broader socio-economic context.

    I’m a fan of Henry Kaiser’s admonition “bring me the bad news, good news weakens me.”

    Please indulge me.

    We tell our children to get a good education, but outsource labor displacing them from jobs (many of them once high paying); jobs they might otherwise occupy so they (or their disillusioned parents) can pay off the education depts. (see The Great Education Hoax

    As noted in the past, ‘talent shortages’, with few exceptions, have always been a myth, and certainly today such claims would be absurd with 15 million Americans officially unemployed and nearly 30 million falling under h6 category (almost 20%); yet the U.S. government continues to authorize in excess of one million new visas this year with no slow down in sight. Take IT as an example:

    ? Since 1999, the United States has approved enough H-1B visas for computer workers to fill 87 percent of net computer job growth over that period.
    ? Since 1999, the United States has had a net loss of 76,000 engineering jobs. Over the same time period, the United States has approved an average of 16,000 new H-1B visas each year for engineers.
    ? If current employment trends continue and the H-1B quota remains unchanged, the United States will approve enough H-1B visas for computer workers to fill about 79 percent of the computer jobs it creates each year.
    ? In spite of the requirement that H-1B workers be paid the prevailing wage, H-1B workers earn significantly less than their American counterparts. On average, applications for H-1B workers in computer occupations were for wages $13,000 less than for Americans in the same occupation and state.

    We ship manufacturing off shore without a thought or care about national interests, specifically national security implications. When the next pandemic strikes (and it will) the supply of vaccine, produced nearly all overseas, will reach but a small fraction of Americans. And this is just one example of many.

    Open borders encourage human trafficing and drug smuggling. Open borders cost trillions over the years in interdiction, enforcement, incarceration, treatment, not to mention the losses in productive capacity in the workforce and broken families resulting from drug use. Open borders cost hundreds of migrating people their lives trying to cross into the U.S.A, and thousands of women and girls are raped. Thousands are now being killed in Mexican border-interior drug wars; a condition that is spilling evermore across into U.S. territory—clearly a national security threat. And tens of thousands of Americans, some reports claiming up to 9,000/year (for years), are slaughtered in America at the hands of those in the country illegally, either on the roads or being murdered by criminal activity. Just one murder or death sets off a cascade of financial and personal costs to families, friends, and employers. If true, in just over six years that’s one Vietnam. I could go on about the costs in untaxed remittances, education, health care and social services costs, but I’ve probably made my point.

    Of course it’s important to mention the climate change jobs growth engine. While failing to mention that climate has been changing since the earth formed, the cool aid drinkers conveniently leave out the fact that no other county is getting on board; and for those that did in the EU it’s been an unmitigated disaster. Moreover, even if humans did all they could do the outcome in temperature wouldn’t be impacted by more than one-half a degree in 100 years according to a growing number of reputable scientists (some who were the initial proponents of the global warning theory). According to the Obama administration the cost to U.S carbon taxpayers for this Obama/G.E. cabal will be only $300+ billion/year totaling $9T U.S. investment over 30 years. Put another way the Heritage Foundation says this will add up to $800 per person per year; 85% of which goes to private sector enterprises.

    And what’s the labor impact from the certainty of the current demographic shifts? Our population is expanding at a truly frightening rate. In less than 40 years we will add between 130 and 160 million more people, and by the end of the century it will approach one billion. The majority will be low skilled with limited educations and under employed. Nearly all of that growth will be the result of immigration both legal and illegal. No country in history has EVER absorbed that much population and survived culturally intact. We are balkanizing at an alarming rate; Los Angeles is referred to as the second largest Mexican City. Sharia (Islamic) law is informally propagating in a number of U.S. cities; and in some jurisdictions there are efforts to formalize and normalize this insidious insanity. There goes diversity out the window…guaranteed !

    In sum, California and other states are now collapsing under the weight of our politicians insane something-for-everyone spending and political correctness. Depending on who you want to believe the fiscal impact of illegal immigration on CA education cost ranges from $8 to $29 billion each year (just over 45% of all students ages 5-17 are the children of parents who came to the U.S. illegally. The U.S. 2010 deficit projections range from a low of $1.5 to more than $3 trillion (depending on what gets rammed through in health care), 3 to 5 times past highs (all in a year or so). And don’t forget the total U.S. unfunded liabilities as reported by one recent estimate exceeds $100 Trillion ($58 trillion for just Social Security and Medicare).

    When asked about green shoots, Warren Buffett said he sees none. On the optimistic side, he said we’ll recover and be better than before. I hope he’s right; as my children’s futures depend on it. I wonder though whether some of the top investors during the fall of Greek, Roman, and Persian, empires were fiddling the same tunes? What’s the evidence underlying the optimism, given some pretty solid evidence to the contrary (Celente, Bunker and other futurists); and no interest by the masses to get rid of corrupt career politicians and obscenely corrupt business ‘leaders’ who line executive pockets while their ships are sinking or only staying afloat?

    What happened to real leaders; people with the Right Stuff ?

  2. Raghav: Another great one. “Then again, he was perhaps not the best choice to be a spokesperson on acquiring talent. One might as well ask Joe Biden to speak at a Toastmasters convention.”

    Keep up the great work. Hope ot meet you in person one of these days.

  3. Shameful comment
    Great article Raghav but the comment by Ebeling struck me as a shameful trope of protectionism and xenophobia.

    Despite being complimentary to you, it argued antithetically to your message of politics-free, merit-based hiring.

    If it were not for the relatively free movement of labor, internet-based companies like mine that hire workers here in the USA would simply take our capital and go buy those resources elsewhere.

    What happened to real leaders with the right stuff? We’re busy changing the world. We’re at the dawn of a new era in which free resources like the internet and computing are causing every business to get reinvented. Transparency not contrivance. Freedom not protectionism.

    What you try to hold onto you lose. What you give up you keep forever.

    Great piece Raghav, but we have to hold onto those values even when they aren’t in our immediate best interests.


    Gregg Dourgarian
    CEO, Tempworks

  4. Gregg:
    “what you try to hold onto you lose”

    I’m inspired. Tonight, I’ll leave the lock off my bicycle and if it’s gone in the morning, I’ll know that I’ll have it forever.

  5. Bill, thanks for the bicycle example. It happens to fit perfectly with the freemium model that underpins the “what you give away you keep forever” attitude.

    Barcelona gives away bicycles for free, as does Paris. Here’s a wikipedia link about how it works:

    By giving away the bicycles, these cities get a lot back – less traffic, more tourists, less pollution, and reduced crime. They save on bike-locks too.

    No stone is left unturned. We are at the dawn of an era in which every industry – recruitment, bicycling, software, books – has an ancien regime trying to hang on to what they have and losing their shirts in the process.

    Meanwhile revolutionaries – Google, Amazon, Barcelona and a lot of exciting new companies – create success by giving.

    Gregg Dourgarian
    CEO, Tempworks

    Gregg Dourgarian
    CEO, Tempworks

  6. Gregg:

    No doubt we could come up with innumerable examples of European superiority in all sorts of things, British healthcare comes immediately to mind.

    Now I seem to remember a story about organized criminals making off with large numbers of those free bikes and shipping them off to one of those –istans somewhere.

    All that being said, giving stuff away is a great thing, as long as you can monetize it and your customers can absorb all the advertising. Giving away something for free by slapping advertising all over it is as old as the pyramids, not exciting.

    I’m not quite sure what Amazon gives me for free and I’m sure the citizens of Barcelona paid for those bikes whether they wanted to or not.

    Of course all this brave new world stuff takes away an awful lot as well. I’ll never enjoy browsing at Amazon as I did at Mendoza’s and, of course, all this apparent (and I don’t use that word loosely) efficiency hurts small entrepreneurs. We often find former hardware store owners stocking shelves with scant and execrable goods at Home Depot, where the right sized screw can never be found.

    So finally, coming around to the point, I’ll note that the free stuff is intellectual property, Iron still costs and always will; oh , the government may force me to pay for a bike for you but it’s still paid.

    While I appreciate your enthusiasm for brave new worlds (and surely we’d all be chasing our dinner with stones without them)something like 99% of new ideas fail , so it’s not such a good idea to throw so much failure around too suddenly.

  7. “Shameful comment”, REALLY?

    First, Gregg, my complement to Raghav stands as intended, sincere. Raghav and I have had civil disagreements before, and will likely have them again. While I do not doubt his sincerity, I challenge any attempt to dismiss mine. Moving on, I mean no disrespect to you; but words like “protectionism” and “xenophobia” are the blunt instrument, in this era of political correctness, used by those who seek to silence anyone with an opposing point of view.

    Absent the blunt instrument, it shouldn’t be too hard to see that I intended a broadened context of politics-free, merit-based hiring to the larger scale of national interest rather than the local politics of single enterprise or person relationship.

    It seems we, as a community, don’t talk about the bigger picture enough. I’m just say-in.

    So, given that context, is it antithetical that America’s work force, under stress for many years from too much immigration, will experience increasingly negative impacts by forces associated with: outsoucing and offshoring; cost of education and impacts on government budgets; lost manufacturing capability; the festering national wounds from open borders in human trafficing and drug smuggling; health care and social services costs; untaxed remittances ($25 to $50+ billion to Mexico alone); climate change and carbon tax fraud; balkanizing of American communities.

    Alarm bells are being sounded by many contemporary futurists.

    Should we not get our national interest perspective around this?

    Let me be clear, I have no problem with “relatively free movement of labor”; where the operative word is ‘relative’.

    Let’s start with the relative nature of politics.

    Traditional U.S. legal immigration for example until the mid 1960’s, was limited to workforce replacement needs at a rate of about 170,000 visas per year; but immigration flows have increased to a staggering rate exceeding one million year, for decades . These increases and the practice of importing high numbers of technical and professionals via a myriad of visas, hiring foreign post-secondary masters and doctoral students, has reduced wages for both skilled and college educated American workers. According to the DOL citizens wages are suppressed nominally by 30% and as much as 45%. And according to a recent report on the MSNBC financial news, as many as 3 million or more domestic white collar jobs are at risk over the next decade. I really want to tell my kids that.

    You might know the term K-Street lobbyist. Disgraced, former, Microsoft lobbyist Jack Abramoff, convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public officials, mail fraud and tax evasion helped direct $100 million in political expenditures between 1995 and 2000, enabling Microsoft and other employers to procure employer-friendly changes to H-1B visa legislation in 1996, 1998 and 2000. As a result of this work force glut, real wages in STEM fields have remained flat since at least 2000. And this was just one man from one firm.

    Where you see ‘transparency’, I see ‘contrivance’. Where you see ‘Freedom’, I see ‘protectionism’ aka protection of corporate welfare offered by politicians to some of the largest enterprises on the planet. Yes, America is for sale on a scale never e-magined, to the highest bidder. Funny thing but Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath seems to agree, calling H-1B the “outsourcing visa” in the April 15, 2007 edition of the New York Times. Bye-the-way, noted Americans agree too. While I can cite many more, here are just two. Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman agrees, saying in 2002 that the 1990 H-1B visa program is a “government subsidy” because it allows employers access to imported, highly skilled labor at below-market wages. He’s not the only one. Mainstream economist and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve’s board Alan Blinder warned that 42 to 56 million American service-sector jobs are in jeopardy of being outsourced…three times the number of manufacturing jobs (14MM).

    Here we are now, less than three years after one of Americas former leaders, Abramoff, has gone to jail; after “Duke” Cunningham, and corporate ‘leaders’ have gone to jail. Here we are post Enron where increasing number of our ‘leaders’are being jailed. Here we are, at a time following the most catastrophe economic meltdown in world history, and a tax cheat heads the U.S. Treasury (IRS). Yes here we are now at a time when there are roughly 15 MILLION unemployed Americans and at least 15 MILLION MORE UNEMPLOYED under broader measures like H6. Why would any American complain about politics as CONGRESS INVITES OVER ONE MILLION MORE FOREIGN WORKERS EVERY YEAR TO COMPETE WITH AMERICAN CITIZENS. Yes as the number of unemployed continue to stack up like so much cordwood; as 3.2 million foreign worker are invited in by the end of 2010; including 1,490,000 working-age (20-64) permanent immigrants, and 1,826,000 foreign workers on temporary visas…why question that? What’s the problem?


    What’s the impact on high-tech; what were the analysts saying about the pre-2008 war for talent in high-tech?

    • The report “America’s High Tech Bust” cites “The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) analyzes the notion of a War for Talent laying bare the fairytale surrounding employment numbers in technology.
    • A Long Jobless Recovery in Information Technology Labor Markets
    • Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) Fellow John Miano offers a detailed discussion on the impact of H-IB visas in his missive “H-1B Visa Numbers: No Relationship to Economic Need”; and in “The Bottom of the Pay Scale Wages for H-1B Computer Programmers”
    • For a broad overview read Center for Immigration Studies Director of Research Steven Camarota’s missive “Immigration, both legal and illegal, puts huge strain on the country” is at the
    • UC Davis Prof. Norman Matloff, a computer scientist has for years written extensively about the H-1B FRAUD being perpetrated against U.S. native born workers in computer programming and software engineering in his missives “Should the U.S. increase its H-1B visa program?” ; and “CON: Wages belie claims of a labor shortage” located at: and
    Isn’t this…simply put…hiring discrimination against Americans?

    And, can you not concede, that such political practices when viewed through a larger prism of history and simple logic, or even simple ethics should be considered in the bigger picture of national interest? Should real numbers form our national immigration policy; particularly in times like these?

    “What you try to hold onto you lose. What you give up you keep forever.” REALY? Already America has lost 200,000 U.S. science and engineering jobs to communist China. Tell that to the 30 million unemployed Americans, and newly minted engineers, American citizens too, that have been betrayed by the politicians they’ve elected to uphold even the most basic tenets of our two century (plus) tried and tested American Constitution. Did you know that China is not really our friend? Wars, whether armed conflict or/and economic, are lost when supply lines are choked off. I think I’d rather consider Ronald Reagan’s sage wisdom, “Self delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly”. Stand bye when the China cuts off the money supply.

    We may well be at the dawn of a new era where business is being reengineered and reshaped (again); and the horse may well be out of the barn; but let me ask, is there such a thing as ‘free resources’? Like the pre-Y2K era where business ‘leaders’ were trumpeting that ‘old business models are dead’. Well, we found out that the people propounding this nonsense, the most quoted and believed (by the press) indeed were not the ‘real leaders’. Did they have ‘the right stuff’ as they were busy changing the world, did they? But who knows, what this current ‘reinvention’ has in store. Will those with the loudest voices prove to be right or just the cheerleaders of another context based absurdity? Time will tell. I would just ask, how excited are you for your children and grandchildren to live in an increasingly illiterate, balkanizing nation whose population is ballooning toward one billion?

    Moreover, I think it’s always best to evaluate leaders based on objective measures of performance. Benedict Arnold was an innovator, a great American leader, and one of our first heroes; but through the prism of history his name doesn’t resonate in such light.


    I have studied and written article published on ethics, standards of business practice and professional behavior. Again, I mean no disrespect, but values that “aren’t in our immediate best interests” are not values; they are “contrivances” of convenience, nothing more.

    Gregg, and I’m serious on this, I need some free programming. The good will and feeling you gain from your noble gesture, you will be able to keep to forever !

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